PARIS AIR SHOW: Lockheed Martin’s Sikorsky is touting the CH-53K King Stallion’s ease of flying as a key design feature in its campaign to win Germany’s “Schwerer Transporthubschrauber” (STH) competition. “It tells you where you are when you near the limit of the envelope,” Dan Schultz, Sikorsky president, told reporters here. The German Air Force will soon release a formal request for proposals.
The fly-by-wire flight controls that integrate various screens and sensor in the cockpit create an “optimally piloted” aircraft in which the first pilot is able to concentrate on flying the helicopter, while the second pilot can concentrate on the actual mission, Schultz explained. This not only means pilots can complete their missions in “the worst conditions anywhere,” but also helps reduce training costs.
The heavy lift CH-53K is expected to face Boeing’s CH-47 Chinook in the German Air Force’s $6.4 billion program. Berlin expects to award a contract between 2021, and to begin fielding a buy of up to 60 helicopters starting in 2023.
While the CH-53K is bigger and sports a powerful T408 engine made by General Electric, the CH-47 is combat proven and fielded in eight NATO countries. Further, as reported by The Drive in late May, Boeing now is looking to flight test the Chinook with the same engines to give the King Stallion a run for its money. The Chinook is also cheaper, at least for the moment, with an estimated price tag of about $40 million versus a whopping $87 million for the King Stallion. However, the CH-53Ks price tag will drop as more aircraft are produced, Schultz noted.
Indeed, Boeing’s potential move to a re-engining also is being seen as a play to replace the CH-53K with the Chinook, following a demand for a review of the troubled program (first reported by Bloomberg) by Sen. James Inhofe, chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee. So far, despite delays — including some trouble with exhaust gas ingestion that Schultz says Sikorsky has found a “solid fix” for — the Marines are sticking with the King Stallion, as reported by Sydney last month.
For the German market, Sikorsky has partnered with a team of 12 German companies, led by Rheinmetall. Schultz said the German firms would conduct all the maintenance should the Luftwaffe choose the King Stallion. He said that ease of maintenance is also a key selling point for Germany — and noted that the CH-53K has 65 percent fewer parts in its engine than its predecessor, and 40 percent fewer parts in its gear box despite it being more powerful.
Sikorsky and Boeing will also face off in Israel, which is looking to buy some 20 heavy lift helicopters — with Israel set to open flight evaluation sometime this year. Israel, however, reportedly is waiting to see what Germany does before making a procurement decision — in part to see how the price of the CH-53K is affected if Berlin chooses Sikorsky.